The Hon Karen Andrews MP
Minister for Industry, Science and Technology
Federal Member for McPherson
29 August 2018
Interview with Peta Credlin
Credlin, Sky News Australia
Topics: Appointment to Cabinet, Professional background, Electricity prices
PETA CREDLIN: As you know, I spoke with Chris Kenny last night about some of the news faces recently appointed to Scott Morrison's first ministry, and chief among those is the new Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Honourable Karen Andrews, who's got a real step-up with this promotion. As I said, from one of the very junior roles previously to now in the economic portfolio and in Cabinet. Before her election to Parliament in 2010, Karen Andrews was a civil engineer and also had worked in industrial relations, so she comes to her new portfolio with actual real-life experience and I'll tell you what, that is rare in Canberra. I'm pleased to say she now joins us from the Parliament House studio.
Welcome to the show, Karen. I'm thrilled that you're here and congratulations on the big move into Cabinet.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, thank you very much, Peta. It's wonderful to be here on your show and of course I'm delighted that I had the opportunity to be promoted into Cabinet and into a portfolio that for me is pretty much a dream portfolio: Industry, Science and Technology. And as you probably would recall, that was actually where I started when I was first promoted into the ministry; it was as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Science, so it's great to be back in that portfolio.
PETA CREDLIN: So, I want to introduce you to my viewers because too often we get right into the hurly-burley with ministers about detail in their portfolios and no one understands what they bring to the table. You come from a background where you did a mechanical engineering degree. That's unusual for women. We're only now starting to get good numbers of women into engineering, science and maths. But that's a real achievement and you also then worked in industrial relations. Tell me a little bit about your background and what made you leave that sort of working environment and take a tilt at politics.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well yeah, you're right, I have a degree in mechanical engineering and started my working life working in coal-fired power stations in Queensland as a maintenance engineer and I loved maintenance because it gave me the opportunity to fix things, and that's always been part of my life – wanting to identify what the problems are and then move to the solutions and then start to implement them. So, I worked in engineering for a number of years, predominantly in a maintenance role – coal-fired power stations, and also more broadly in petro-chemical industries. And then- that was when I was first in a direct supervision role and that sparked an interest for me Industrial Relations. So I have a graduate diploma in Industrial Relations and worked in IR for a number of years as an employee myself, but also with my own consultancy. So I guess I have got a bit of a background now in small business and I understand just how hard it is. So working as a consultant, I was actually earning money when I was out consulting, but there's so much more that's involved in a small business. So, it was an absolute eye opener to me; the amount of work that goes into running a small business. So throughout my life, I believe I've always been an advocate for people who didn't have a voice themselves; always had an interest in politics – only ever in federal politics – so when my husband and I moved to the Gold Coast a number of years ago now, I became actively involved in politics in Queensland. It was prior to the merger of the Liberal-National Party so I was a Liberal member and became very actively involved in the party. And when the opportunity came up for me to run for pre-selection in the seat that I lived in, which was McPherson, I took that opportunity. And quite frankly for me, it was exactly what I was looking for, so that I could take my skills as an advocate but also my business skills, my problem solving skills into Parliament to represent the people of McPherson.
PETA CREDLIN: And for people at home, I understand McPherson is in and around the Gold Coast area. We'll get to Queensland and how it will play out in the next campaign. Because Queensland will be where it is; absolutely won and lost. And you grew up in Townsville so you've got a breadth of experience from the top of Queensland right down. But I'm also wanting to tell people too, one of the jobs of the Chief of Staff to a Prime Minister or a leader is to keep an eye out for up and coming talent and I will never forget that when you were the Chair of the Public Works Committee – which is a very powerful committee that makes sure all the projects of the Commonwealth is doing are happening on time and on budget – you were the only Chair of that committee in recent memory, recent history, that brought in projects on time and on budget. And it really was a demonstration to me that having real life experience coming into politics is sort of money can't buy stuff. How do you think that real life experience is going to translate into a portfolio like Industry?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think it's going to be very useful. I guess just in terms of the Public Works Committee, one of the things that I used to really get myself worked up about was that projects would come into the Public Works Committee with an expectation that it would just be signed off. And I recall one project – it was a fairly major project – that came into the committee and the scope of it was just wrong. So, what we did is a committee – and I guided this process – we actually sent it back for a significant re-scope of the work, so that it became value for money for the taxpayers. And I am so determined in everything I do to make sure that it is value for money; and I had the opportunity to do that with the Public Works Committee. And the committee at that time, were actually very much engaged in the value for money prospects and we then continued on to make sure that we were getting the value for money. So we saved millions of dollars for the taxpayer just by pushing back to the proponents that came through and say: no, actually you need to scope this so that it's appropriate. So, as I approach Industry and Science, and Technology, I will actually bring that methodology as well to the table. What I want to do is make sure that the taxpayers are getting value for money about- from the work that the Government is actually doing. So, whether that be through industry or science, or more broadly through technology, through the innovation space as well, I just want to make sure that what we are doing is delivering for the Australian taxpayer.
PETA CREDLIN: What's really interesting about Scott Morrison's ministry changes that is for the first time in a long time, or since Tony Abbott, small business is back inside the cabinet. I think that is very smart politics. There's focus again on Industrial Relations- that's again back inside the cabinet. It [indistinct] belief that both were removed from the Cabinet but they're back. You've got industry; obviously key to keeping big industry players in Australia – particularly multinationals – is making it worth their while to employ in this country, to turn a profit and key in that is energy. Now, I know you don't have the energy portfolio, but previously you have been supportive of the debate – at least in Australia – about nuclear energy. Are you going to drop that fight now that you're in the Cabinet or are you going to stick to your principles?
KAREN ANDREWS: I quite find it prosecuting [Indistinct] where there is a strong principle being involved. Let me just take that back a step; so I was involved in establishing Parliamentary Friends of Science and one of the things that we did was have debates about a range of issues. One of the things that we did do is invite a discussion among parliamentarians about the option of nuclear energy into the future. What I am on the record of saying is that in my view, we need to have a discussion about that and see whether or not it is something that would be contemplated more broadly. Now having said that, we do have a new Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, and I have absolute confidence in him that he is going to firstly get across his brief to understand exactly what the issues are with the energy portfolio. And he will provide a lot of rigour to the process to make sure that we are getting energy prices down; that's what he's been promoted to actually do. I think Scott Morrison has referred to him as the Minister for getting energy prices down, part of that is to look at what the energy mix will do. I'd like us to concentrate on the here and now at the moment and focus very much on getting prices down and then there will be scope at another stage for a broader conversation. So, our focus absolutely is to get the energy prices down.
PETA CREDLIN: Would you as a Queenslander – I know many of your colleagues are on the record about this – would you like to see a coal-fired power station built in Queensland?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, one of the issues with Queensland is – and I worked at some of the coal-fired power stations in Queensland as a maintenance engineer – is that they are coming to the end of their lives. So, consideration has to be given to what's going to happen to those coal-fired power stations.
I don't have any issues with coal-fired power; it is generally cheap, it is generally very reliable and it's part of the mix. And I think that that's been demonstrated by the Government, that it will be part of the mix going forward as well. So, I think there's a lot of work that we need to be doing in that energy space to look at what that mix is going to be into the future and make sure that above everything else, that we are making sure that we keep the energy prices down.
When people speak to me, they actually don't talk about an energy mix per se; they don't talk to me necessarily about coal-fired power stations. What they say is that their energy prices have gone up and up and up and it's hurting them. People can't put their heaters on in winter. As we approach summer and particularly in the northern parts of Australia, it's going to get very hot, people will be wanting to put their air conditioners on and we want them to be able to do that because they will have affordable power bills.
PETA CREDLIN: And look, one of the things that comes back in a very common sense way is that Australia exports more coal now than anywhere else. We get rich on exporting our coal for others to burn, but we have such a reluctance to burn it here. We make everyone else rich and warm off our coal because they create then strong industries. But we're making it difficult for industry to stay here and just the other day, I was reading a report that Egypt is about to build the world's largest coal-fired power station. So, we'll happily shift it to the land of the pyramids to warm and grow industry over there, but again, not use it here. So I think your common sense approach, having been perhaps the only one around the table who's worked in the coal-fired power sector, will be something that I think will be rewarded- the Cabinet will be rewarded by having real life experience brought into these debates at a political level, not just coming through experts in departments. So, good luck to you on that point, Karen.
KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you very much.
PETA CREDLIN: And now just before you go, Queensland – battleground state, absolutely. I think the Coalition's really struggled in Queensland, that's always been what's underlined some of the numbers in the polling, but it was borne out in fact at the recent Longman by-election. You know the seat of Longman well, the Coalition's always won Bribie Island, it's very much the Liberal Party base in that seat; not so much Caboolture – it tends to be Labor. But Bribie Island, every booth went against the LNP; what does the LNP – the organisation need to do to get back in the game in Queensland?
KAREN ANDREWS: The key to this is going to be listening to people, listening to the voters, hearing what they're actually saying about what their priority issues are. We've already touched on energy – power prices being key to that as well. Look, Queensland's a big state, the population is very diverse, and some of the issues around Longman are actually quite different to the issues that you would find around Townsville, for example. What we have to do is make sure that we are listening to the people and then acting on the information that they're giving us.
So, we will have a coordinated approach in Queensland and I can assure you we're just not going to sit back and just say: well, we'll protect the seats that we've got. We're actually going to go out there very proactively and we're going to go after seats to make sure that we actually bring them back into the Liberal National Party and that we strengthen our position going forward.
PETA CREDLIN: Well, good luck with your new job, your new role in the Cabinet, Karen Andrews. Thank you for coming on tonight; I know it's easy to shy away from interviews when you're just newly appointed, but it's great to be able to introduce you to my viewers tonight.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, thank you for inviting me, it's a pleasure to be here.
PETA CREDLIN: Thanks very much.